In late 2007, the never ending battle between the Autobots and Decepticons saw its newest cartoon incarnation, when the "Transformers: Animated" series debuted on Cartoon Network. Set in a future version of Detroit, the Autobots in serve as protectors of the city, battling not only the Decepticons, but other earthly evils as well.
After two successful seasons, the series has been adapted into a video game for the Nintendo DS handheld system. "Transformers: Animated: The Game" arrived in stores this week, and CBR News was able to get some details about the game from the people behind it. We talked to Stephanie Marshall of developer A2M and John Sweeney, Associate Producer for Activision, about what fans can expect from the Nintendo DS release.
CBR: A2M has a history of working with licensed properties--Teen Titans, Power Rangers and Scooby-Doo, among others. What are the unique challenges and benefits of working on licensed projects?
Stephanie Marshall: Yes, A2M has a lot of experience with licensed games. The challenges mostly lie in making certain that a game stays true to a brand in look and character. For existing fans of a brand or license this is very important.
The challenge is to also produce a fun and dynamic gaming experience for the fans with the brand they already love. In a way it is creating a whole new aspect to a brand or license for the player to experience. Often as a completely different experience then a movie or television show, a licensed game has to achieve unique criteria.
These criteria can be a gray area for developers, where many ideas and features have to be explored before that special something is achieved. For the many people involved in the production process, their individual creativity has to be very focused for success. It can be a very intense production process where everyone involved needs to meet an established brand's polished standards.
What is the main storyline of the game, and how does it tie into the "Transformers: Animated" series?
John Sweeney: The game ties directly into the "Transformers: Animated" series and takes place along the same timeline as Seasons 1 and 2. In the game, Megatron has taken over Sumdac factory in order to build an army of robots to invade Cybertron. In order to get to Cybertron, he has also been building a Space Bridge and is attempting to gather up the All Spark fragments in order to power it up. It's up to the Autobots to stop him.
How closely did you work with the producers of the animated series while developing the game?
JS: This was done on several fronts: We had a great relationship and worked very closely with [licensor] Hasbro, including Steven Drucker the show's creator, as well as several of the creative heads at Hasbro to ensure we presented a game that was true to the animated series. A2M's artist did a great job capturing the look and feel of the series and putting it to the game. For the music, we used Rod Abernathy, who was also familiar in working with Hasbro in the past. We also hired Marty Isenberg to write our story, who is the writer of the animated series and who was a tremendous help in making sure we captured and stayed true to the show. Additionally, because this is the first game that features Cybertron as an actual playable level, Hasbro was very helpful in providing us some reference points and allowed A2M to develop an actual look for the Transformers home planet for the first time ever, which was a great honor for us being huge Transformer fans. Finally, for post production we used Audio Circus which is the same company that Cartoon Network used in order to post process the [voice-over] sound effects for the "Transformers: Animated" series.
Will any of the voice actors from the show be reprising their characters in the game?
JS: Yes, we used the cast of voice actors from the series for all of the characters that appear in our game, and as such we were also able to include a couple of nice cameo appearances by some of our favorite Transformers.
"Transformers: Animated" is exclusive to the Nintendo DS. What makes the DS the best platform for this game?
JS: Well, it's certainly no secret that the NDS is an extremely popular platform especially among the kids -- whom this game was made for. The style of game is perfect for the NDS as it features a great deal of touch-screen action along with the use of the dual screen. We were able to take full advantage of the technology that the NDS offers including the use of the famous transforming sound effect when you close the case. This game is perfect for kids or adults who wish to exercise their brain and enjoy a nice Transformers fix either at home, out on the go, waiting in a movie, etc. But be careful because you may get so caught up in trying to figure what to do next, you just might miss the beginning of the show!
What can we expect from the core game play, i.e. puzzles, RPG, platforming?
JS: One of the major themes in the animated series is the concept of teamwork, and the Autobots having to work together. With that in mind, there are two parts to the game which offer a nice variety of gameplay: one is the puzzle and platforming-based game play where you have to figure out how to use each of the Autobots' unique abilities in order to navigate the levels. On these levels, Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Bulkhead are playable and the player is able to switch between the available Autobots as they must have them work together in order overcome the obstacles and enemies.
The second style of game play is driving, which is a much faster-paced type of game play. Here the players will be able to interchange on the fly in order to take out or outrace enemies. For these levels, Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Prowl are available.
How much transforming will be players be able to do? Are there certain actions in the game that can only completed in either robot or vehicle form?
JS: Yes! That touches on another very important theme for us on this game which is to have transformation for a purpose and that is where the driving based levels come in. With the driving levels, the players are able to switch between robot and vehicle form with Optimus Prime and Prowl, while Bumblebee is able to activate his booster pack and drive extremely fast. On these levels the Autobots still maintain their unique abilities and must use their transformations in order to complete the levels.
Playable characters we've heard about so far include Autobots Optimus Prime, Prowl, Bulkhead and Bumblebee. Will the Decepticons be playable in the game?
JS: This game is all about the Autobots trying to stop Megatron. Players will be able to use Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Bulkhead, and Prowl. Ratchet and Sari are side characters that provide assistance.
In terms of replay value, will there be unlockables or other content that will have players going back into the game once they've completed it?
JS: As players go through on their first try there are some nice unlockables related to the animated series. Similar to many other puzzle type games, the replay value is challenging yourself to see if you are able to complete the many puzzle levels faster than before.
"Transformers: Animated: The Game" is on sale now.